A new imagination - Catherine Dauvergne and the new politics of immigration

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Samara Bissonnette

In an installment of the Big Thinking series for Congress 2014, Catherine Dauvergne delivered one of her newest big ideas yesterday at Brock University in a presentation titled "The End of Settler Societies and the New Politics of Immigration". As a member of The Trudeau Foundation, which was founded in 2001 in tribute to the humanitarian virtues of Pierre Trudeau himself, Dauvergne acts as a pro-bono lawyer, a teacher, and a student of research herself, as she researches a new understanding of the politics of immigration around the world, with particular attention to our Canadian home. As a professor, she imparts advice and assistance to young scholars in her field and maintains the belief that "to really do justice to a big idea, you need time more than anything else", to which she added that "the Trudeau Foundation is a gift of time" to her and her big ideas. 

The way Dauvergne approaches her research is by attempting to change the language surrounding the politics of immigration, encouraging a new understanding of the process and in effect, clearing the slate and renegotiating a whole new system. She argues that the way we understand immigration has changed vastly in the past two or so decades, and we haven't had time to take stock of it. I suppose, just like a good idea must take time to develop and change, so too do the politics of immigration shift and take shape with the aid of time. 

Immigration and the concept of settler societies has been a very controversial subject in the past few decades, which was made clear by some of the sensitive comments made during the Q and A session, such as the "stolen land" that we inhabit as colonialist settlers, and the "fate of indigenous peoples with this new understanding of politics". However, Dauvergne held her own and responded to the questions in a respectful and delicate matter, agreeing with the unfairness of the past and being careful not to make any promises or answer any questions that she couldn't respond to adequately, saying that some questions "shouldn't be answered by white colonial academics". Her goal in this project is to make clear the detrimental effects that the current system is having on national identity and human rights, by imploring that there has arisen a "fixation on making people illegal", and how it is "no longer about making it possible to immigrate, but rather about ensuring that is impossible". 

Perhaps the strongest thread of her argument lives in her discussion about how the concept of "settler societies" is diminishing, and as a result, so too is multiculturalism. The very key to a settler society throughout history was immigration, because it encouraged the desirable effect of multiculturalism and created a stronger economy. However, as of late, the desire has been rather to shut people out and form national cultures based on core identifying unifiers. She described this as governments "actively pursuing mono-culturalism", which inevitably kills the concept of a growing settler society. As a result, who can immigrate and how is becoming more and more restricted. No longer can a poor potato farmer from Ireland hope to find promise by sailing on a boat to the ports of Eastern individuals who are poor or struggling in any way are shunned from the boarders. To emphasise this point, Dauvergne used the example most prominent for a university audience. While boarder guards must turn away those who do not fit the new restricted categories, they must simultaneously usher in the best and brightest from other countries. For example, the way in which universities enforce foreign student policies for those bright individuals from overseas, and make efforts to keep them in their schools, while rejecting others who may need a helping hand or an offer of freedom from a country that oppresses them. This creates "a new global imaginary of where the 'us-them' line is to be drawn is both sharper and starker than before". 

The inevitable result that Dauvernge emphasized was the rise of illegal immigration. By denationalizing individuals, we ensure a hostility towards our policies and a detrimental effect to our own national identity. In order to kick-start the slow-moving growth of human rights arguments and make changes for the better, we must realize what is happening and take steps to reach this opening point. It is a new time that calls for a renegotiation of those relationships between settlers, aboriginals, and 'ethnic Canadians'. The first step on that road is changing our way of imagining immigration. Which Catherine Dauvergne argues, "is the most profound shift of all". 


Catherine Dauvergne is a professor at the University of British Columbia and a notable lawyer who works in the field of immigration and refugee law in Canada and around the world. She has published several pieces regarding the topic, one of them being her book "Making People Illegal: What Globalization Means for Migration and Law (Cambridge University Press 2008), which is taught across several disciplines. Her current project is researching Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedom and the failure of its efforts to protect immigrants. 

Watch Catherine Dauvergne's Big Thinking lecture below:


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